The products help clean your home. Their sales help clean the environment. "We are helping to preserve and keep intact what it is we value most about the community we live in," said Jeffrey Hollender.
The cofounder of Burlington-based Seventh Generation has made a lot of green -- off going green. The company is a leader in environmentally-friendly household products. Ten percent of their profits support charities. In 2009, the company donated nearly half-a-million dollars in cash and products.
"If you are fortunate enough to be financially successful, on one hand you have an obligation to share that wealth beyond what you distribute in taxes to your community," Hollender said.
Hollender had a well publicized falling out with the company's board two years ago, but is still a significant shareholder at Seventh Generation. He's a wealthy man and is proud of where his money comes from. But that wasn't always the case.
Hollender was a multi-millionaire by the time he was 30. In the late 70s and early 80s he was raking in cash from massive adult education classes -- teaching people things like "How to marry money." He appeared on the Phil Donahue talk show and was basically booed off the stage. "Once we were on the show, we met with a somewhat unhappy, if not violently unhappy crowd, challenging us of being unethical," he said. "I walked off the set feeling ashamed, if not disgusted with myself, that I had lost track of my own values in the pursuit of money.
Reporter Darren Perron: Did Phil Donahue change your life?
Jeffrey Hollender: His audience did.
It was a turning point -- and a starting point for Seventh Generation. "I try to do what I can today rather than waiting for tomorrow," he said.
The businessman is also an author, consultant, teacher at New York University -- and is launching a new partnership with KSV advertising in Burlington. He and his wife's foundation supports causes in line with those supported by Seventh Generation -- like Resource in Burlington, which recycles household items. They also help fund Planned Parenthood. "Breast cancer prevention is very, very, very important. My mother had breast cancer in both breasts," Hollender said.
"Giving and giving locally in a way that you can participate and get your hands into it is just part of being a Vermonter. It is part of who we are," said Peter Espenshade with the Vermont Community Foundation. The Vermont Community Foundation says philanthropists making contributions in a small state like Vermont, can have a greater impact than their counterparts in larger, urban areas. "They can make change, make communities stronger and move the issue and move the needle on issues. Not only are they comparable to the greats in American philanthropic history, I think in some cases they've done more because they are doing it in Vermont," Espenshade said.
Hollender's products may be worldwide, but he still calls Vermont home. He, his wife and son live in Charlotte. He has two other grown children. He's learned a lot since he was their age. "We save too much money for a time and a day that may never come," he said.
And hopes that others, wealthy or not, learn the rewards of giving back too. "There is nothing more fulfilling to me than helping other people. Nothing I can do for myself compares to the joy and fulfillment I get from helping other people. If you haven't discovered that, you're missing out on one of life's greatest joys," he said.
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